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Episcopal Relief & Development

I first met Sandy and Martin McCann following the most tragic event of my life. In June 2007, John and I lost our newborn son to a fetal anomaly. In the weeks that followed, his death I realized that I had to get involved in some kind of activity or the black hole that was lingering around my heart was going to swallow me up. In spite of our loss, I was still the mother of three very young children and allowing my sorrow to overcome me was not an option. I found a place to become involved and I found God’s answer to my pain and sadness. I found God’s people, who surrounded me and my family with love and helped us sooth the wounds of loss. They hugged me when I needed it, they laughed with me when I able and they cried for me when my tears had run dry. These people came to me through St. Thomas in Columbus, GA. Not the least of those who loved me was Sandy McCann. That was before she was an African missionary and before she was an ordained priest. She was just Dr. Sandra McCann, my friend.

As I was still in the stages of grief for my son, I found out I was pregnant and was quite frankly scared to death. I was so scared of reliving the nightmare that I was frightened to even voice to people that I was pregnant. When I finally found the courage to share the news, I again, was surrounded by love and encouragement. Shortly before Mother’s Day I had my first ultrasound which alleviated the fear that we might again suffer a tragic loss. All body parts were there and in working order. On the Sunday following the ultrasound I pinned the photo of the baby to my corsage. Thirteen years later, I can still see the smile on Sandy’s face when she walked up, looked at the image and smiled her very infectious smile and said “She is perfectly beautiful”. I was a little stunned since we had not determined the sex of the baby yet but I took great comfort in her reassuring words. In October 1998, MacKenzie was born, healthy and beautiful. On January 9th, Fr. Paul Cosby baptized her with our parish family there to celebrate with us.

That Mother’s Day was one of many days when Sandy offered me comfort, love and support so when I heard the story of Baby Martin, I knew that she had been there for this mother much as she had been for me. God did a fine days work when he brought Sandy into my life and continues showing His love as He continues to guide her in her ministry of those who celebrate the joys of life and suffer the pain of loss.

In the years since St. Thomas, Sandy and Martin have built a thriving mission in Dodoma, Tanzania, Africa where they serve the people of their community. The story of Baby Martin which I share with you is a testament to the avoidable pain and suffering that many families must endure in sub-Saharan Africa. I encourage you to meet Baby Martin, as you read the words of Martin McCann, as he relives the life of a child whose birth was celebrated, his honor of having a namesake, the joy of celebrating his baptism and later grieving because of his very avoidable death. When I emailed Sandy and asked her for permission to share Baby Martin’s story with you, she told me that tragically Baby Martin was the second child that the family had lost due to malaria. I cannot even begin to describe how my heart broke for this family.

I know that what happened to my son was unavoidable as it was a fetal anomaly and nothing known to modern medicine could change it. However, I know that what Baby Martin and his family suffered, not once, but twice, could be avoided in other families with something as simple as a $12 net. In closing Sandy wrote, “Martin's parents, Ayubu and Mollen Mazengo, had another baby 2 years later, a little girl named Magi! It was the first time I had seen a deep smile from Mollen since Martin died.”

I pray for this family to continue to smile and never know the pain of this tragedy again.

~ Edie Teal, ERD Representative for St. Paul's

An excerpt from newsletter #21:

On April 6th we went with a beloved Msalato Theological College student, Ayubu Mazengo, to baptize his five-month old son, Martin Nyemo, named for me, the godfather. We meet Mollen, his mother, and the rest of the family in their village. Sandra preaches and does the baptism. It is a joyous occasion. Ayubu relates to Sandra some of his dreams and hopes for Martin’s life. Martin looks just like his father, Ayubu, (Job in English) and is robust and healthy. Slightly over two months later on June 9th, I get a call from Sandra that Martin is very sick. After work I stop at the local hospital to visit. He is getting IV medicine for malaria and is nursing. I am relieved and bring good news of his progress home to Sandra. No one could be more surprised than me when the next day Sandra calls to say he had died in the morning. How fragile life is. We are devastated. Sandra was asked to do the sermon for the funeral that day. We are back to Martin’s village that afternoon for the sermon and burial. Many faculty, students, and staff from Msalato go with us. The massive assemblage of people from the village was overwhelming. It was too much for words to describe, and we felt photos were not appropriate. Sandra’s sermon was as uplifting as one could be in such a situation.

Martin was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid out on a kanga on the dirt floor of his home. For the funeral service, which took place on the grounds outside his home, his body was placed under a tree on a low table. After the service, we gathered at the gravesite a few hundred meters from Martin’s home. A priest friend of Ayubu jumped down into the grave and received the body, which he laid on the floor of the grave. Some men then handed down to this priest pre-cut tree branches that he wedged into the sides of the grave above the body. The result was what looked like a ladder lying flat above the body. A piece of a plastic feed sack was laid on this wooden lattice upon which were placed piles of beautiful green leafy branches followed by layers of deep red bougainvillea. (While this was happening, a priest leaned over to Sandra and said, this is the way we make our coffins.) Then the red earth was shoveled on top of the flowers after those around the grave had thrown in handfuls of dirt saying, Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. The gravediggers filled the grave to overflowing and meticulously molded and smoothed the heaved-up mound of dirt with sticks. Finally they laid the handle of the shovel onto the molded earth and made the vertical and horizontal imprints of the cross in the red dirt. Men around the grave then gathered small stones and filled in the imprints producing a natural stone cross. At the close of the service- family and friends came and laid more bougainvillea on top. It was all very moving, very beautiful, and very sad.

Death of a child in the West is no less traumatic for the families involved; it is just so much less common. World wide there are 300-500 million new cases of malaria annually. It is the most deadly vector borne illness causing 3.5-5 million deaths annually. Many of these deaths are in children 1-4 years of age. It is estimated that in Africa a child dies of malaria every thirty seconds.

Treated bed nets are a priority of the World Health Organization’s program, Roll Back Malaria. A fellow priest wrote to Sandra after hearing of Martin’s death: Guess we need to preach more about sleeping under mosquito nets and making sure that we destroy all breeding places than preaching about soul winning and going to heaven! (6A) A lot also needs to be done to reduce the delays and shortcomings in delivery of treatment. A major problem has been the emergence of Chloroquin resistance in Plasmodium falciparum (the major killer and commonest form of malaria in Africa). Millennium Development Goal #6 is to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.

In our grief, Magi Griffin, the other Atlanta missionary in this diocese who had gone to Martin’s baptism with us, reminded us in a sweet note: Death has a name. Precious Martin. How easy it is for us to fall into the terrible trap of thinking that because death is so common here that it is not as traumatic for them as for us. Martin’s death has certainly brought this home to us. Although we have watched his family cope in a very heroic and stoic fashion, nevertheless we have witnessed the picture of deep grief etched in their faces; we have seen their silent tears; we have heard the quiet groans of grief that only a mother could make. I have heard many people from abroad say: Death is different here. People just accept it. It is just a part of life. The latter is a true statement, but the fact that it is common does not in any way reduce the particularity or the pain. As Magi so aptly reminded us, Death has a name.

One of the hardest things to accept about Martin’s death is that we do not think that this would have happened in the west. Poor village families are late to get to a hospital because of distance, lack of transport and money. And even after getting to a hospital, we find ourselves wondering if treatment is appropriate and timely. I think most of the missionaries feel that if malaria was such a huge problem in the US or Europe that even if a cure or vaccine had not been discovered, we would have found ways to successfully control it. We are grateful for the NetsForLife program. We tell Martin’s story not only because it is the one we know but also in the hope that it will encourage you not to forget that it is individuals with names who are make up those overwhelming statistics which can make one’s eyes blur over.

Sandy and Martin McCann

To make a donation to Nets for Life, please mail a check to St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 576 Roscoe Road, Newnan, GA 30263. Please put "Nets for Life" in the memo line. Each net costs $12 and we encourage you to be as generous as you are able.